Yesterday, as I was lying on the couch resting (and, yes, the kittens were there as well) because I was having an over-the-top RA day, I went channel surfing. I happened upon an episode of Oprah's " Where Are They Now?". One of the people she followed up on was Ryan White's mother. Remember him? The young man from Indiana who made all the headlines when he was diagnosed with HIV back in the day? Yeah! That Ryan White.
I have a special place in my heart for Ryan and his mother. Ryan taught us all what it meant to be ridiculed, persecuted, hated, made fun of and ostracized...and all for something that was no fault of his own, and totally out of his control. My heart aches just thinking about what that child lived through!
All because of Ryan White many of us learned that people with HIV/AIDS are just that: people who, for whatever reason, have a horrible cross to bear. I understand that cross, because my family lived it, too. Ryan's tenacity, quiet and gentle spirit, and strength of character were lights to my son, Austin, and me when we lived through the death of my first husband, and Austin's dad, Marc.
No matter how the disease is transmitted, it is horrible. And no one deserves it. I remember when Marc was first diagnosed. It was two weeks before his untimely death giving none of us an opportunity to grasp the severity and reality of the situation. We didn't get to say goodbye. We didn't get to hold his hand. We didn't have the opportunity to tell him all the things we wanted to say. Marc and I had been divorced for six years when he died. He lived in Houston, we, in Colorado Springs. We were still close...we had a son together and wanted nothing more than to do right by him.
When he died, it was surreal, like a bad dream. I thought of Ryan White and how he was treated by those who chose not to understand, those who lived in fear of the unknown. I had chosen many years before to become educated about the disease. It was while I was in nursing school in Little Rock that the AIDS epidemic hit. I assisted with procedures on AIDS patients, bathed them, fed them...and, in those days, none of us knew what kind of precautions to take. We only knew we felt helpless and inadequate in the care of the men who presented with this monster of a disease...a disease that mutated itself every four hours. So when Marc passed, it was a relief of sorts that he wouldn't suffer anymore. He had pneumacystis pneumonia, a symptom if the disease, and the pneumonia actually took his life.
How do you tell your child his father has AIDS? Worse than that, how do you tell him his father will never get better? At the time, it felt like we were walking through a dream sequence that never ended. Twenty-four years later, I don't think about the illness anymore. I think about the man and how fortunate we were to have him in our lives. Austin and I live our lives, knowing that we were both fortunate and blessed to be a part of his life.
All because of Ryan White...whenever I hear his name, see a photo of him, I remember Marc...and smile.